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Infertility: A Diabolical Agenda Is Anti-Vaxx Sleight-of-Hand Propaganda

Disgraced anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield directs a movie based on the false claim that Kenyan women are being sterilized under the cover of tetanus vaccination. His real goal has nothing to do with Africa.

There is a lot to unpack in the deceptively simple (and simply deceptive) 30-minute documentary Infertility: A Diabolical Agenda, released on June 10, 2022.

It focuses on the claim that a tetanus vaccination campaign in Kenya was actually a covert operation to use a contraceptive vaccine to permanently rob African women of their fertility. It suffuses the story of experimental contraceptive vaccines with sinister intent, and it exists in a media environment that frequently reminds us that sperm counts are decreasing and that raises the question of what is happening to human fertility. In the background of all this are hints at a depopulation agenda, a bogeyman par excellence for the conspiracy crowd. Except that the bogeyman originates from disturbing policies directed at developing countries.

And those developing countries are here held up as warning signs by the anti-vaccine movement to scare people away from COVID-19 vaccines. Infertility was executive-produced by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose Children Health Defense activist group was behind a similar propagandist documentary, Medical Racism, in which real healthcare violations done to Black people were positioned to stir up distrust of modern vaccines. Now, Kennedy repeats the formula with Infertility, putting disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield—now going by “Andy”—in the director’s chair.

Wakefield and Kennedy are not reliable sources of information. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license in the United Kingdom because he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct. In his infamous and now retracted study, which falsely claimed a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, he unethically tested multiple children, including via invasive lumbar punctures, and failed to disclose he had been paid by a lawyer looking to sue vaccine manufacturers. He has since transformed his disgrace into martyrdom and is a regular on the anti-vaccine circuit. Kennedy, meanwhile, is a rallying voice for the anti-vaccine movement and one of the main generators of vaccine disinformation online.

As with Kennedy’s previous documentary, Infertility weaves together truths, falsehoods, genuine concerns, and debunked allegations into a superficially convincing product with bare-bones production values.

The true story of contraceptive vaccines

During the documentary, scientific papers flash on screen as we are told the “indisputable fact” that vaccine makers have created anti-fertility vaccines on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is implied that these vaccines create permanent sterility.

What these papers actually reveal is that some researchers were interested in developing a vaccine that could replace other methods of birth control. The principle is relatively simple. One of the first steps in pregnancy is the release of a hormone called hCG. It drives the production of another hormone, progesterone, which maintains the pregnancy. To prevent pregnancy, scientists wanted to see if they could direct the immune system to attack hCG, the way in which antibodies can attack a virus. And they managed to do this by linking part of the hCG hormone to the inactivated toxin associated with tetanus, its so-called toxoid. The immune system recognizes the toxoid as bad, and hCG gets included in the mug shot.

What Infertility doesn’t admit to is that this form of birth control was reversible. It lasted between 300 and 500 days, after which the number of anti-hCG antibodies went down to practically zero. When this vaccine was tested in early clinical trials in India in the 1980s, the women enrolled in the study had already had their tubes tied. They had chosen to not get pregnant again. In a subsequent trial from the early 1990s, women attending a family planning clinic were enrolled. In all cases, antibody levels went up then fell down. For this method to be effective contraception, regular booster shots would be required. These types of vaccines, by the way, are not available for use in humans: they never left the experimental stage.

In a move that seems to show the remarkable ignorance of the filmmakers behind Infertility, animations meant to show antibodies attacking the pregnancy hormone use an illustration of the coronavirus in lieu of antibodies. Any biomedical scientist worth their salt would have picked this up, and I suspect by now, many members of the public as well, which goes to show the level of scientific scrutiny commandeered by Andrew Wakefield.

Putting aside their demonization by anti-vaccine activists, contraceptive vaccines find themselves wedded to genuine concerns. As women’s rights advocate Betsy Hartmann writes in her book Reproductive Rights and Wrongs, their effect is reversible… eventually. Unlike a daily pill or a condom, there is a long period during which contraception cannot be reversed. Moreover, it is unclear when the vaccine has taken effect and when its effect has worn off, as there is much variability from one person to another. Ill effects blamed on this vaccine could decrease a person’s acceptance of vaccines more generally, creating a vaccine hesitancy domino fall. Hartmann also mentions that ethics violations were documented in some of the trials in India, where a woman is wrongly told the vaccine is 100% effective and side-effect free, and where consent forms are signed in English even though few of the participants understood the language.

These facts, easily uncovered, help make Wakefield’s documentary more believable. The testing of contraceptive vaccines in developing countries is part of how rich nations have tried to act on the problem—real or not—of overpopulation. Hartmann reports that at least one-fifth of contraceptive research and development in the early 1980s took place in developing countries, which allowed research institutions to skirt stricter guidelines and to eventually release contraceptives in these countries with much shorter printed lists of side effects and precautions than in the United States.

I wrote about how the recently celebrated malaria vaccine was accompanied by serious claims of ethics violations when it was deployed in some African countries. Colonial science is real and contraceptive research is not immune to it.

And let’s not forget that pro-science physician Ben Goldacre wrote an entire book on the shortcomings and wrongdoings of the pharmaceutical industry.

So, do all of these truthful threads add up to a veridical documentary?


False positives

Infertility is framed around the testimonials of two African physicians, Dr. Wahome Ngare and Dr. Stephen K. Karanja. In 2013, we are told, the WHO with the support of the Kenyan government began a vaccination campaign against neonatal tetanus aimed at Kenyan women of childbearing age. Neonatal tetanus is no joke: it is caused by a neurotoxin secreted by a bacterium that festers in a newly-born baby’s umbilical stump, typically because of the use of unsterile instruments or dressings when cutting the umbilical cord, and it used to cause half of all newborn deaths in many developing countries before immunization became widespread.

Dr. Karanja’s skepticism toward his country’s tetanus immunization campaign seems to have been triggered by two things. The vaccine was being offered to women who were not pregnant, which he found strange. Also, he says that, while attending a conference in Houston, he was told that anti-fertility vaccines were being used under the cover of mass vaccination campaigns all over the world. So, he asked for some of the tetanus vaccine vials being used in Kenya to be tested locally. The result? According to him, the laboratories reported the presence of hCG. He was convinced that the tetanus vaccine being used in Kenya was actually the experimental birth control vaccine that famously linked part of the hCG hormone with the tetanus toxoid.

In 2017, Dr. Karanja and others published their claims that the tetanus vaccination campaign was a sham in Open Access Library Journal, which features in a database of predatory journals, meaning journals that will publish anything as long as its authors pay them. One of the co-authors of this paper is Professor Christopher Shaw, a Canadian researcher who published then retracted a heavily criticized article linking the aluminum found in some vaccines to autism in mice. Meanwhile, the first author on that Kenyan vaccine paper is John W. Oller, who also appears in the Infertility documentary as “Dr. John Oller, PhD.” The problem? His doctorate is in general linguistics. The paper itself was published by Open Access Library Journal, then withdrawn, then republished by the same journal for unclear reasons.

We are drowning in red flags, here.

The fact-checking website Snopes debunked this entire story in 2014. There were no laboratories in Kenya that could have accurately detected the presence of hCG bound to the tetanus toxoid. These labs instead used pregnancy test kits, which do detect hCG, but which were designed to do so using urine and serum, not vaccines that contain preservatives and adjuvants. The laboratories apparently recognized this, but the results were spun by religious groups in Kenya to scare people away from the tetanus vaccines.

As the documentary explains, another laboratory, Agri-Q Quest Limited, was later brought in to test more samples, but Agri-Q Quest would go on to lose its accreditation after being audited.

This story of clandestine sterilizing vaccines being used in developing countries is not new. The documentary itself mentions that it also happened in 1995 in the Philippines… except that it appears to have been a controversy started by anti-abortion religious groups with ties to local politics. In fact, similar claims were made in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Tanzania around the same time, and they were formally debunked as early as a 1995 article in Reproductive Health Matters. It turns out you can get a positive result for hCG from just about anything if you misuse testing equipment. As the article states, “in a laboratory in Hungary, it was shown that the sterile water supply from the local hospital gave a higher false-positive level of hCG than did the [tetanus toxoid] vaccine.”

It’s not about tetanus. It’s about COVID.

Wakefield’s resurrection of these zombie myths for his documentary has very little to do with caring for the exploitation of developing nations by richer countries. His motivation becomes clear at the very end of the documentary and in the live Q&A roundtable that followed the online premiere of the movie.

The bait-and-switch happens just before the end credits, as a voiceover informs us that Dr. Karanja was “killed” in April 2021, “officially by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” “When they are through with Africa,” he tells us from the grave, “they’re coming for you.”

After the credits are done rolling, the documentary continues with clips featuring Dr. Byram Bridle, who claims that the spike protein used in the COVID-19 vaccines is toxic, and Dr. Michael Yeadon, who is seen “just asking questions” about whether or not the COVID vaccines will cause infertility. Interestingly enough, some have claimed that the COVID vaccines were the same anti-hCG vaccines mentioned in the documentary, though this false claim is not explicitly made here. (If you are interested in what we know about the COVID-19 vaccines and fertility, I recommend this document. In short, there is plenty of evidence that these vaccines do not impact fertility.)

The one-hour live Q&A that follows the movie is a who’s who of the anti-vaccination movement and has nothing to do with Africa. Instead, the discussion is centred on the COVID-19 vaccines, with the occasional tangent into Gardasil, the HPV vaccine.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, who has traded her medical education for intuition and wishful thinking, boldly tells viewers that people on airplanes get bloody noses just because they’re around vaccinated individuals. She is planning a dating website for the unvaccinated “to save humanity.”

Vaccines are referred to by the talking heads as “a murder weapon,” “a war crime,” and “a global genocide.” Northrup recommends ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and shares a debunked recipe on how to make the latter at home with lemons and grapefruit.

There is a portmanteau to describe the kind of movie Infertility is: docuganda. Under the cover of objective reporting on whistleblowers, the movie props up a debunked story to further its propaganda campaign against the COVID-19 vaccines. Clips from Children of Men and references to The Constant Gardener are meant to send a chill down your spine.

Meanwhile, Wakefield all but confesses during the Q&A as to what he really did here. “The value of film,” he tells the camera forty-five minutes in, “is that it takes a complex subject and it does the heavy lifting. It distills it into an entertaining and visual story that communicates a very important message to people that they would otherwise have to go out and research themselves.

“And people certainly wouldn’t do it. It would be too onerous.”

Andrew Wakefield does not want you to do your own research.

I wonder why.

Take-home message:
- Infertility: A Diabolical Agenda is the latest anti-vaccination “documentary” directed by former doctor Andrew Wakefield and executive-produced by Robert F. Kennedy, a prominent anti-vaxxer
- The movie claims that Kenyan women were rendered infertile after receiving a birth control vaccine disguised as a tetanus shot, but this story was debunked and hinges on local laboratories using the wrong test to analyze vials of the tetanus vaccine
- The end of the movie and its follow-up Q&A reveal that its real objective was to spread fears about the alleged dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines


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